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Mine from the last drop just arrived and initial impressions are really good.
I started from using a Nuforce udac2 and later on upgraded to a Taiwanese brand DAC/AMP combo called DA&T U1s which costs about $400. Recently I've acquired a Chord Mojo and even though Mojo is intended to be a portable DAC/AMP, I found that the DAC portion is somehow better than the one in my U1s. (And of course WAY better than udac2) I've been using the Mojo as a reference DAC for a while and became curious about how a well built dedicated DAC would sound like.
Now I've been listening to the DAC-80 for several hours, A/B testing with an RCA switcher (Mojo -> Asgard, DAC-80 -> Asgard) and I can say that the DAC-80 is clearly better and offers a balanced sound all around.
I'm using an HD700 (also from Massdrop), and the soundstage really opens up coming from Mojo to DAC-80. Instruments are more realistic in the recordings, especially piano and strings. Vocals tend to get hot because of the notorious treble spike of HD700, but on the DAC-80 it feels more relaxed and well placed in space. I even found out that a certain sound which I always considered noise in the background of one particular violin track was actually the violinist breathing!!
I think the Mojo's strong suit is its detail and accuracy, yet the congested soundstage wraps up too many information in a small space, restricting its sound to be as musical & natural as the DAC-80.
The DAC-80, on the other hand, has a slightly softer touch to its edge (just a tad softer, it's still very detailed and precise) and a larger soundstage both in depth and in width. The result is a very natural and effortless sound, which places all the instruments and vocals around your head in the right place and distance.
Thanks for your review. I always overlooked the NuForce products because of how the amps sounded when the company first started (I never heard them, but the reviews suggested they weren't for me).
Your review has gotten me curious about this DAC, and I may just get one.
It sounds quite promising. Thanks!
I really think the DAC-80 at this price point is a solid choice :D
Sounds great and looks great!
Though I think there's something I need to point out here: Making the DAC-80 work on a PC requires a bit more than plug & play.
Drivers are needed and DS Sampling rate should be set following their Manual. (https://www.optoma.co.uk/uploads/HardwareManuals/DAC80-HWM--.pdf)
I'm using Windows 10 and after installing their drivers, I went straight to listening and didn't bother setting the sampling rate to 192k/24bit (as recommended in their manual) and found that a popping/clicking sound keeps showing up every 1~2 minutes. Windows DS default is 44.1k/16bit and I think the pop sound happens mostly when the DAC-80 is operating in this mode. (I tried connecting the DAC-80 with an iPad with a lightning CCK and it also pops while playing from iTunes)
However, after setting the DS sampling rate on Windows to 192k/24bit as described in their Manual, the pop sounds are gone for good.
I think the DAC-80 kind of needs everything to be upsampled to 192K/24bit to work properly.
I don't mind having my mp3 or lossless files upsampled to 192K/24bit but I guess some people might be concerned about this.
Thank you Lerens. Your comments are the exact kind of things I am looking for. One persons opinion of the product I am about to buy, and even comparing the unit to other items of the same function. You were able to articulate your impressions of the sound very well.
Why can't more of us just leave comments of what the item in question sounds like from their personal listening. And if we like it. Thats all. Lerrens possesses a large audio vocabulary, but that is not always necessary.
I had the popping issue as well and I tried upsampling with some success. It seemed to make the DAC pop less, but if I remember there was still some popping. After tons of experimentation on the software side (CPU throttling, resource sharing, etc.) I decided to try using the SPDIF optical output on my laptop's motherboard. This seems to have completely fixed the popping sounds. Hopefully this helps somebody else as the popping sounds gave me a huge headache.
The Asgard is garbage and so is the HD 700.